Court rejects international arrest warrants in African trafficking case

VULNERABLE girls and young women trafficked from Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ghana will have to wait even longer before they know whether they will ever get justice. The couple accused of trafficking them, referred to only as M and B, because they have children who may not be identified, are the subject of extradition attempts. An Italian court in Naples has asked the UK courts to respond to two European arrest warrants (EAWs) and extradite M and B, now in the UK. That extradition was approved in 2016 but the UK judge dealing with an appeal in the matter said there were serious problems about the information provided as part of the arrest warrants: “a wholesale failure to provide the necessary particulars”

COMMENTING on the documentation before the UK court in the extradition case, judge Andrew Nicol said, “Nothing about these warrants is straightforward”.

The couple were tried and convicted in their absence, and the Italian courts now want them brought to Naples for sentencing. Despite the confusion and inadequacy in the documentation referred to by the UK court during the appeal, however, a number of significant details emerged.

The girls and young women, all under 18 at the time they were brought from Africa between 2000 and 2001, allegedly by M and B, were trafficked from Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ghana. They were taken to Europe for prostitution, on the basis of false documents. During the process, the girls and young women were exposed to serious danger “as well as being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment”.

The documents also mentioned a conspiracy between M and B and others. On several occasions the alleged plotters used “grave threats, physical and moral violence and with intimidation, also of a magic-religious nature” to ensure they were obeyed. Girls were “sold” to “other madams” and the accused “saw to it that prostitution was carried on in the ways established and collected the sums cashed daily”.

According to additional information supplied from Italy, there were 48 other accused in the case.

Judge Nicol said he had “very great sympathy” for the original judge in the UK who had approved extradition. “The warrants were extremely difficult to follow … even making reasonable allowance for the fact that they had been written in Italian and translated into English.”

The court concluded: “In my judgment these (warrants) were wholly deficient. They failed entirely to make clear for what offences (M and B) were to be prosecuted. The deficiencies were not simply lacunae that could be made good by further information: the problems with the warrants were far more fundamental than that.” As the warrants did not satisfy the Extradition Act, the appellants (M and B) had to be “discharged”, said the court.

The offences were “undoubtedly serious”, said judge Nicol, adding that he would not be surprised if the authorities were to decide that “the unfortunate debacle” around the arrest warrants “should not be the final chapter in this sorry history”.

Lord Justice Gross, sitting with judge Nicol, added his own view: there was a very strong public interest in extradition, even more so when it was related to serious offending such as the allegations of human trafficking in this case. “But it is also necessary for the European Arrest Warrant system to work as it should. The requesting state must be expected to get its tackle in order. … The (warrants) here were unacceptable.”

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Read the full judgment on BAILII: M B v Preliminary Investigation Tribunal of Napoli, Italy [2018] EWHC 1808 (Admin) (16 July 2018)